5 great family day outs in Derbyshire

Fun days out with the family in Derbyshire

Fun days out with the family in Derbyshire - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Part of a new series, Molly Scott looks at the best things to see and do in Derbyshire - this time, it's activities with the children.

Views beyond the Italian Garden and Koi Lake at Thornbridge Hall

Views beyond the Italian Garden and Koi Lake at Thornbridge Hall - Credit: Thornbridge Hall


Thornbridge Hall formal gardens and children’s play area

Thornbridge Hall is a grade II-listed stately home nestled in 12 acres of quirky, quintessentially English gardens with stunning views of the surrounding Derbyshire countryside and makes for a brilliant family day out.  

For our family, the highlight was the ‘hook a duck’ fountain. One of the ornate old fountains has been filled with hundreds of yellow rubber ducks, allowing children to enjoy fishing them out.  

My then three-year-old was in her element and practically had to be dragged away. Grab a coffee from the nearby café and watch the fun unfold.  

There’s also badminton, painting, swing ball and a glorious mud kitchen.  

Thornbridge Hall Gardens is a RHS garden. It isn’t quite as manicured as the likes of Chatsworth, but all three generations of my family loved it.  

There are a wide range of different areas, including an Italian garden, a 30 metre herbaceous border, water garden and Koi Lake, as well as terraced lawns overlooking the stunning Peak District. 

Details: Open seven days a week, 10am – 4pm, no need to book (although 20% off if you book online). Dogs welcome on leads. We did see people with pushchairs but I’d recommend a carrier as the paths are gravelly. There’s a lovely café on site for refreshments.  

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Recommendation: You could spend a whole day here - or combine with exploring Bakewell or the Monsal Trail from Hassop Station.  

Suitable for: Primary school-aged children and the young at heart (who doesn’t enjoy a rubber duck fountain?!). 

Prices: Adults £7 each, children £3, under 3s and RHS members free on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  

READ MORE: Behind the scenes at the grounds of Thornbridge Hall

The grounds of Calke Abbey

The grounds of Calke Abbey - Credit: Gary Wallis

Calke Abbey  

Calke Abbey is probably the most family friendly National Trust property in Derbyshire (at least whilst Sudbury Hall is shut).  

Described as the 'un-stately stately home', there aren't the usual opulent interiors you might expect to find at a National Trust property and we rarely bother with the house itself and instead enjoy exploring the extensive parkland and formal gardens.  

The walled garden features an array of beautifully maintained flowers. Interiors fans will swoon with delight at the faded beauty of The Orangery (it’s very Instagram-able!).  

There's a good adventure playground for younger children near the main car park - which is also close to the toilets and café. Children might also enjoy exploring the long tunnel and ice bunker.  

Prior to arriving at the main car park, turn right to 'Calke Explore', a new outdoor recreation area. There’s a woodland play area with lots of things children can climb on and explore. Once you’ve finished you can drive (or take a 15-minute walk) to the main car park for the house and gardens.  

You can picnic throughout the grounds but one insider tip is to park in the overflow car park facing the parkland to enjoy your own idyllic little spot (and save lugging food around all day). If you don't wish to picnic, there's a café serving light refreshments. 

Details: Dog friendly but not overly pushchair friendly – use a carrier if you have one. 

Prices: Free for National Trust members or an adult ticket for the park and gardens only is £6.50, children £3.25 or a family ticket is £16.25. Parking included.   

READ MORE: Derbyshire walk - Staunton Harold Reservoir to Calke Abbey

Meet the meerkats and many other animals at Matlock Farm Park

Meet the meerkats and many other animals at Matlock Farm Park - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Matlock Farm Park  

Most of this attraction is outside, so a good one for anyone wanting a Covid-secure day out. Wander round at leisure looking at the various different animals. There are lots of opportunities to pet animals – including, often, cute baby animals! Animal feed is available to buy.  

There are small animal handling sessions, as well as walks through Wallaby Encounters and Meerkat talk sessions. Pony rides are available, at an extra charge, at weekends and school holidays.  

There are various outdoor play areas, including an exciting new Jumping Pillow (the UK's largest - available - in dry weather only). There’s also an indoor play areas and various takeaway catering options. 

Suitable for: Probably best for primary aged children, unless children are particularly interested in animals. Parent and toddler special offers in term time.  

Details: Pushchair friendly. No dogs, except guide dogs.   

Prices: Adults £10.95, 4-14 years £9.95, 2-3 years £7.95, concession £9.95, under 2s free (£1 discount for term time weekdays). Family tickets from £40.  

A wintery Monsal Trail

A wintery Monsal Trail - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Walking and Cycling on the Monsal Trail  

The Monsal Trail is an 8.5-mile, traffic-free route for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users through some of the Peak District’s most spectacular limestone dales.   

It runs from Blackwell Mill, in Chee Dale, to Bakewell. The trail is on an old railway line, so fairly flat and accessible. You can even walk through the old train tunnels, which are well lit.  

There’s a large pay and display car park at Hassop Station where you can rent bikes and relax in their extensive café facilities. There’s also a small children’s play area.  

From Hassop Station you can easily walk to Bakewell (just over 1.5 miles) or enjoy the magnificent views at Monsal Viaduct (2 miles). 

Details: Dog and pushchair friendly.   

Prices: Free (car park charges apply). 

Postcode: There are various entry points to access the trail, but I recommend Hassop Station for the play, catering and toilet facilities. There’s also a flat entry to the trail - DE45 1NW 

READ MORE: Cycling the Peak District - Bakewell and the Monsal Trail

Injoy Centre, Derby  

I’m not a huge fan of soft play places. I generally find them over-priced, disappointing food-wise and with lacklustre coffee… but most kids adore them! Plus, they’re a good rainy-day activity.  

One soft play place I would recommend is the Injoy Centre, in Derby. One of the newest and biggest soft play centres in the county, it feels clean and well maintained.  

They also have a really cool interactive/digital play room upstairs. You have to pay extra - but we definitely rate it. It’s a calmer, more chilled out vibe than the craziness of the soft play bit. There’s also a climbing wall and laser tag.  

Suitable for: All children. Toddler mornings held Monday to Friday, whilst laser tag and climbing walls would entertain most teenagers. SEN sessions are available which are less busy, quieter and have adjusted lighting.  

Details: Monday to Sunday 9am – 5pm. No on-site parking but easily accessed by public transport (it’s right next to Derby bus station) and a short walk from the Derbion Riverside car park.  

Prices: A two hour soft play slot is £6 for over 3s, £5 for under 3s. Climbing walls from £8 per hour, interactive zone from £6 per hour, laser tag from £12 per hour  

We also love:  

Chatsworth House farmyard, playground and garden – Please note some areas of the playground are currently undergoing restoration 

County parks – Why not enjoy a truly great playground like Cliffe Park in Dronfield, Markeaton Park in Derby, Hall Leys Park in Matlock and Queens Park in Chesterfield  

Lea Gardens, near Matlock – This has quite a short opening season but is a real gem with young children  

Great resources for planning days out with kids

Peak District Kids is a fantastic resource for planning days out with kids in the Peak District. There’s lots of walks and hikes suitable for little legs, along with features on family-friendly pubs with great playgrounds.  

Derby Days Out is an award-winning website that helps parents, grandparents and carers find a great day out at the click of a button.